Hostage death threat despicable: PM

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Published: Wednesday 28th January 2015 by The News Editor

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Japan’s prime minister has expressed outrage, demanding that Islamic State (IS) extremists free a journalist, as secret talks sought his release and that of a Jordanian pilot.

The efforts in Jordan to free Japanese freelance Kenji Goto and Lieutenant Mu’ath al-Kaseasbeh gained urgency with the release of an apparent ultimatum from IS yesterday.

In the message, the extremists said the hostages would be killed within 24 hours – tonight Japan time – unless Jordan freed Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi woman sentenced to death for her part in a 2005 terror attack on a hotel that killed 60 people.

“This was an extremely despicable act and we feel strong indignation. We strongly condemn that,” Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe said.

“While this is a tough situation, we remain unchanged in our stance of seeking help from the Jordanian government in securing the early release of Mr Goto.”

In Jordan, the pilot’s father, Safi al-Kaseasbeh, begged the government “to meet the demands” of the kidnappers.

“All people must know, from the head of the regime to everybody else, that the safety of Mu’ath means the stability of Jordan, and the death of Mu’ath means chaos in Jordan,” he said.

About 200 of the pilot’s relatives protested outside the prime minister’s office in the Jordanian capital Amman, chanting anti-government slogans and urging that it meet the captors’ demands.

A member of Jordan’s parliament said the country was in indirect talks with the militants to secure the hostages’ release.

Bassam al-Manasseer, chairman of the foreign affairs committee, said negotiations were taking place through religious and tribal leaders in Iraq, adding that Jordan and Japan would not negotiate directly with IS or free al-Rishawi in exchange for Mr Goto only.

A prisoner exchange would be contrary to the policy of Jordan’s main ally, the US, which opposes negotiating with extremists. Mr Manaseer’s comments were the strongest suggestion yet that Japan and Jordan might be open to a prisoner exchange.

Japan’s deputy foreign minister Yasuhide Nakayama was in Amman to co-ordinate hostage release efforts with Jordan, but refused to comment on the talks early today.

Mr Goto’s mother expressed hope for his release, but also desperation. “What has my child done wrong?” she said. “There’s no more time.”

The hostage saga involving the two Japanese has stunned the nation and triggered criticism of Mr Abe over the handling of the crisis. The militants have reportedly beheaded one Japanese captive, Haruna Yukawa.

Yesterday’s video resembled a message released over the weekend showing a still photo of Mr Goto holding what appeared to be a photo of Mr Yukawa’s body. It withdrew a demand for 200 million dollars (£132m) in ransom for Mr Goto and Mr Yukawa, made in an earlier message.

The videos, all of which lack the logo of IS’s al-Furqan media arm, could not be verified independently, but some militant websites affiliated with IS referenced the latest video and posted links to it.

The latest message condemns Jordan for not releasing Rishawi, saying that unless she is freed within 24 hours, the pilot, followed by Mr Goto, will be killed. It says it is the group’s last message.

“I have only 24 hours left to live and the pilot has even less,” says the audio, purportedly from Mr Goto.

Messages from other Western hostages held by the group have been read by the captives on camera and it is unclear why the group released only a recording and still picture.

Lt al-Kaseasbeh, 26, has been held by the militants since his Jordanian F-16 fighter jet crashed near IS’ de facto capital of Raqqa, Syria, in December. He is the first foreign military pilot it has captured since a US-led coalition that includes Jordan began its aerial campaign against the extremists in August.

It was not immediately clear when the pilot’s possible release had entered into the negotiations.

This is the first time the group has publicly demanded the release of prisoners in exchange for hostages. Previous captives may have been released in exchange for ransom, although the governments involved have refused to confirm any payments were made.

Mr Goto was seized in October in Syria, apparently while trying to rescue Mr Yukawa, 42, who was captured by the militants last summer.

Japanese officials have indicated they are treating the video released over the weekend as authentic and thus accepting the likelihood that Mr Yukawa is dead.

Securing the release of Rishawi would be a major propaganda coup for the Islamic State and would allow the group to reaffirm its links to al Qaida in Iraq.

The mother of another Jordanian prisoner, Ziad al-Karboli, said her family was told IS also wants his release as part of a swap, but it is unclear if that was related to a possible deal involving the Japanese hostage.

Karboli, an aide to a former al Qaida leader in Iraq, was sentenced to death in 2008 for killing a Jordanian citizen.

Published: Wednesday 28th January 2015 by The News Editor

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